Baroness Jenny Tonge has sparked anger during a House of Lords debate on rising campus antisemitism after claiming victims are targeted “because of the illegal actions of the Israeli government.”
In a debate secured by the crossbench peer Baroness Deech in response to the publication of the Community Security Trust’s Campus Antisemitism in Britain 2018-2020 report, which showed an alarming rise of incidents at universities, the former Liberal Democrat MP said: “I was shocked when I read the nature of the abuse.”
But Baroness Tonge then added: "What is missing, however, is any investigation into why these incidents are increasing .... with increasing violence in the West Bank and Gaza, the expansion of settlements and the occupation of east Jerusalem, antisemitic incidents have continued to rise.
"Whenever I suggest a connection between the two, I am told this is ‘victim blame’, which it is not. The victims are innocent Jewish people—students, in this case. They are victims because of the illegal actions of the Israeli government."
Among the furious peers to respond to her comments was Lord Grade of Yarmouth, who told the Lords: "I was especially interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, would have to say in this debate, given her form on antisemitism. I have to say that it was predictable."
The Conservative peer Lord Polak said angrily: "I am certain that Jewish students up and down the country will take some comfort from today’s debate — although I am unsure how a one-minute contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, will be sufficient to put right a career of repeating old, medieval tropes."
Lord Austin, the former Labour MP, added it was "completely wrong for the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, to blame racism against Jewish people in Britain not on the racists responsible but on Israel."
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill said: "Lady Tonge, there are no excuses for antisemitism."
Earlier Baroness Deech had highlighted how the CST report had unveiled 123 examples of campus antisemitism - including from lecturers themselves.
She told the Lords that academics were "the very people who should be teaching students to reason and tolerate."
She added: "Nothing leaves a Jewish student more unprotected than to find that the antisemitism he or she faces is from his or her lecturer, and that the panel set up by the authorities to investigate it is peopled by colleagues and devoid of Jewish members."
Baroness Deech also praised the "exceptional leadership" of Lord Mann, whose work had meant 51 universities "are adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which has the effect of concentrating minds on its expression as well as its definition."
She also called for a "complete overhaul of Holocaust education so that students learn about Jewish history, why Jews were persecuted and how unwarranted are attacks on today’s community."
Lord Mann also slammed claims that the IHRA definition of antisemitism prevented free speech.
He said: "There are no examples of it restricting free speech in any way. Every one of the examples cited by some maverick academics is an embellished falsehood, but do not take my word for it. This week, the Palestine Solidarity
Campaign, in its training document, stated that there are no such examples."
In 2010, Baroness Tonge was sacked as the Liberal Democrats' health spokesperson in the House of Lords after demanding an investigation into allegations that IDF aid workers in Haiti were harvesting organs.
In 2016, she was suspended from the party after she hosted an event at the House of Lords where audience members compared Israel to Isis terrorists and suggested Jews were to blame for the Holocaust. She subsequently resigned from the party.